The Lesson in the Clay

Resting at the center of our kitchen table is a large pottery bowl.  It was thrown by my wife who (among her many other talents) is a skilled potter. The bowl is sensuous and broad, with a subtle and complex gray glaze (much appreciated by her color-blind partner).  

Coming home from an extended work trip and unable to sleep while I occupy the wrong time zone, I sit here in the kitchen and see the beauty of this simple bowl in an entirely new light.  This is art very much like the art that we liturgical musicians seek to create.  For those of us who aspire to write liturgical music or those of us who dare to lead others in singing their faith within community prayer there is much to learn from this humble pottery:  

It is functional art.   Although the bowl currently sits empty on our table, you sense that it is waiting to be filled—with fruit or salad or chips or popcorn.  Its beauty is secondary to—and to a large degree determined by—its usefulness.  This is not “fine” art—it is folk art, functional art.  

How often do we liturgical musicians lose sight of this simple truth?  Choosing (or writing) music, preparing and rehearsing our ensembles or performing music within worship, we get caught up in music for its own sake, forgetting that the reason for all music within liturgy is to help our assembly in their prayer.  The greatest Lutheran liturgical musician of them all, J.S. Bach, often wrote:  “Soli Deo Gloria” (“To God alone be glory”).  Every liturgical musician is called to help all those in their community express this profound truth with power and integrity.  Our music and our music-making is never for us; it is always for God’s people and for their praise and petition.  

It is (essentially) anonymous art.  Like the unknown craftsperson who carved a bird’s nest on the roof of Chartes Cathedral, the bowl on our kitchen table is work that does not easily reveal its maker.  If you look carefully on the underside of Linda's pottery (which is normally unseen) you can make out the initials “LH”.  The identity mark is more for the sake of the potter, who often must share a kiln with other potters, than it is for the consumer, who is normally not interested in or aware of who made the pottery.  

Throughout much of Christian history (and still today in many Christian cultures around the world) music has been created by someone for a specific community and a specific occasion.  The person who first sang the music was not remembered; the song (that now became the community’s song) was all that mattered.  

Those of us who create and lead the music of Christian communities would do well to remember this history.  While we live within a culture in which art is licensed and bought and sold, we must never presume that we can claim ownership of the song of God’s people (even when we ourselves have crafted tune or text).  


Schedulng an event You can schedule an event with Marty (workshop, conference, evening of sung prayer) by wrting to him at 

Every attempt will be made to keep this list as up-to-date and accurate as possible; however, it is subject to change.  If you cannot reach the contact person for any of these events, you may Email Marty

October 8-9, 2022: Worship and Arts Festival, Trinity Lutheran Church, Stevens Point, Wisconsin

Contact: Rev. Clayton Schmit 715-496-1957